The Bush administration still can’t give a clear answer about its long-term plans for Iraq. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said last week, on Iraqi TV, that the United States had “no goal of establishing permanent bases in Iraq.” But that same week the House of Representatives also passed a $67.6 billion spending bill that included funding for… permanent bases in Iraq.
Officials claim that the bases currently under constructed will be turned over to the Iraqi government at some future point. But that leaves ambiguous whether or not the Shiite and Kurdish-dominated Iraqi government could sign an agreement to keep U.S. forces in the country over the long term. Meanwhile, John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told Congress last week, “The policy on long-term presence in Iraq hasn’t been formulated.”
Now maybe some people can make the case for a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq—it would be nice to hear it. On the other hand, we’ve heard over and over that the only hope for something resembling stability in Iraq is to bring various Sunni parties into the government. Part of that process will involve a clear statement that we have no long-term designs on Iraq—as is widely feared—in order to defuse Sunni fears. (Indeed, insurgent groups agreed to negotiate with U.S. officials the day after Khalilzad’s statement.) But as far as anyone can tell, those long-term designs are still very much unknown—and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the U.S. really is planning on digging in and keeping some military presence in the country for a long, long time.